I am writing this morning about the pathetic failure of “Yoruba leaders” to protect, defend, and uphold the wellbeing (and even the existence) of their Yoruba nation in Nigeria. And by “Yoruba leaders” I mean not just politicians but also Yoruba traditional rulers and chiefs; Yoruba leaders and officers of political parties; all Yoruba current or past holders of executive or legislative positions in the Federal, State or Local government in Nigeria; all Yoruba persons who have ever received Yoruba votes to win any election – from the presidency of Nigeria to the membership of the smallest Local Government; all Yoruba owners and leaders of businesses; all Yoruba who head or serve in high positions in educational institutions in Nigeria and in the wider world; all Yoruba persons who hold positions as leaders in Christian, Muslim or indigenous religious groups in Yorubaland or abroad; all leaders of Yoruba civic organizations, professional organizations, trade organizations, trade unions, market women’s organizations, and youth organizations, etc.
I assume that every person who qualifies to be regarded as a “leader” among his people is expected to take special interestin the well-being of his people. From that basic assumption, I wish to ask the “leaders” of the Yoruba nation in Nigeria a few crucial questions about the fate of the Yoruba nation in Nigeria:
How many Yoruba leaders are aware that the Yoruba language is today regarded as an “endangered language” in the world – a language that is gradually dying out in its native homeland – a language that some language scholars and some international agencieshave sadly classified as one of the languages that could disappear in its homeland before the end of this century?
How many Yoruba leaders are aware that, because of school curriculums prescribed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, the history of the Yoruba nation has been banned from being taught to Yoruba children in Yorubaland’s schools for some decades now?
How many Yoruba leaders know that if the Yoruba language does become extinct and the Yoruba people forget their history, the Yoruba nation, as a nation, has thus effectively died in the world?
These are only today’s chosen questions among very many crucial questions. All Yoruba are proud of their nation and their sophisticated culture, their nation’s leading position in the history of Black Africa, and their nation’s proud achievements in pre-independence Nigeria. Most Yoruba have no doubt that their nation is well worth protecting and preserving.
Therefore, theseother big questions must follow: Why is the Yoruba language declining so badly in Nigeria, in spite of the pride and capability of the Yoruba people?Why are Yoruba children no longer being taught the proud history of their Yoruba nation in their schools; and why are younger Yorubas therefore robbed of the knowledge of their history? What steps should the leaders and people of the Yoruba nation take to stop their nation from continuing to decline in these ways?
These are question being passionately asked and debated by millions of Yoruba people today – at home in Yorubaland, and in the Yoruba Diaspora in all corners of the world. Everywhere, Yoruba people are deeply distressed about the growing threats to the very existence of their Yoruba nation in Nigeria – and about the perpetual failure of Yoruba leaders to rise up together and defend their nation.
A couple of weeks ago, I had some reason to visit the state of Texas in the United States, a state where thousands of highly qualified Yoruba people live. In one of their cities, they were holding a meeting and they asked me to attend. One could see in their faces, their statements and their questions the agony which they feel in their hearts about the condition of their Yoruba nation back home. In the past week or so, some leading Yoruba citizens of Kogi State in Nigeria have had cause to send me mails, all expressing the same kind of agony about their Yoruba nation. Some months ago, I met some young Yoruba businessmen who are resident in Australia, and they talked with me for many minutes – all the time giving vent to their anxiety for their Yoruba nation back home. Most of the agony in each of these cases is about the decline of the Yoruba language and the loss of the knowledge of Yoruba history among young Yorubas. Are our Yoruba leaders back home – especially our political leaders, our governors and legislators – aware of the agony which most of their Yoruba people are living with concerning these matters?
The failure of the Yoruba leaders to deal effectively with these threats to the existence of the Yoruba nation in Nigeria is simply inexplicable. How did it happen that highly educated, and enormously well informed persons like the Yoruba leaders have done nothing to resist the gradual decline of their native language in their homeland? The reason for the decline is easy to see – and it is quite easy to tackle and defeat. The reason is that a belief has grown among Yoruba folks that they need to encourage their children to speak English only, and to speak no Yoruba. Most believe that this is the way to give their children the strong command of the English language needed for success in Nigeria. Commonly these days, a Yoruba mother being helped by her little daughter in the marketplace forces the girl to speak only English to customers; and fathers do the same to their little sons in their workshops or on the way to the farms. More and more Yoruba children therefore grow up speaking no Yoruba, and the Yoruba language therefore declines steadily.
But most Yoruba leaders must know that this common belief about language among our people is false. All educationists say that any child is naturally capable of learning any two languages at the same time, without one interfering with the other – in fact, that a child can learn as many as six languages at once. Educationists also say that it is dangerous to interfere with a child’s natural effort to learn any languages to which he or she is exposed – dangerous because such interference can disrupt and confuse his or her natural language learning processes. Is this widespread interference by Yoruba parents the reason why young Yorubas speak and write almost no Yoruba and speak and write very poor English these days? The sensible approach is to leave the child alone; he or she will do quite well with both languages. Our Wole Soyinka and all prominent educated Yoruba men and women of his age grew up learning both Yoruba and English, and they write and speak both excellently today. In fact, Wole Soyinka is widely acclaimed to be writing the English language better than any other English writer in the world, and we know that he speaks and writes the Yoruba language better than most of us. Why have our leaders with all their influence never risen up to propagate allthis good information among our people?
Also, why have our leaders, especially our politicians and our state governors and legislators, not resisted the attempt by the Federal Government to ban the teaching of our Yoruba nation’s history in our schools? Surely, many Yoruba leaders know that, in the universal laws of nations today, it is a crime against humanity to prevent any people from teaching and learning their language or their history. The right of every nationality to pass its language and history to its children is enshrined in the laws of the United Nations and of the African Union – to both of which Nigeria is a signatory. Why have we Yoruba (and other Nigerian nationalities) allowed the Nigerian federal establishment to inflict this crime on us without our rejecting it?
The bottom line of what I am saying about Yoruba leaders here is that, even give partisan political differences, there is a lot they can, and should, be doing together for their Yoruba nation. And, in certain matters (especially the preservation of Yoruba language and history), there is great urgency for them to join hands and take action now.